Explore the Wonder of Dormancy
We aspire to know how to turn back, pause, and fast forward the clock of life, by studying the peculiarly cool African killifish and its dormant state – DiapauseExplore with Us
Dormancy is an essential phase of life. Our goal is to establish an integrated molecular understanding of dormancy across cells, tissues, and the whole organism. Our research comprises two key components - Diapause as the research subject & the African killifish (Nothobranchius furzeri ) as the research organism. Together, they provide a compelling angle to study dormancy and how it can suspend & protect organisms in vertebrates.
African killifish and diapause embryo
Life runs like a clock. From showing our first heartbeat, to birth, puberty, getting old, and the eventual demise, we reach every milestone in order and on time. While this clock of life apparently can only progress forward and never stop, many organisms in the wild have evolved various forms of dormancy, putting their life on hold to survive through unfavorable conditions. Among different dormancy, diapause is especially intriguing, as not only it has a unique ability to suspend embryonic development, but also it can do so for an extended period of time without compromising subsequent development and adulthood physiology. Diapause is thus also considered a rare non-aging state potentially coupled with the ability of rejuvenation (pause and turn back the clock of life).
Diapause is widespread in both invertebrates and vertebrates, including mammals. However, the high complexity of the vertebrate system and the low accessibility of the embryos inside mammals have limited our knowledge of vertebrate diapause. We overcome these obstacles by developing the naturally fast aging African killifish (fast forward the clock of life) as a research system of vertebrate diapause. Its high number of transparent embryos outside of the female body makes the diapause embryos easy to observe, obtain, and manipulate for a broad range of experiments. The embryos can stay in diapause for up to years, which is several times longer than the African killifish’s months-long lifespan. The characteristics of long diapause coupled with a short lifespan in the African killifish present a uniquely suited platform to feasibly experiment the functional implication of diapause in vertebrates.
Our research can be summarized into the following directions:
The Signaling to Regulate Diapause
To deepen our knowledge of vertebrate diapause, we study the underlying signaling pathways and molecular mechanisms of diapause across different cells and tissues, and compare them with other forms of dormancy.
Movie: The African killifish embryos can enter diapause at the end of somitogenesis to suspend the development (top embryo) or escape diapause (bottom embryo) to continue the development.
The Mechanism to Suspend Development
To understand how diapause suspends development, we dissect the communications between diapause and developmental principles of cell proliferation, morphogenesis, and differentiation.
Image: The African killifish embryos enter diapause with already developed organs and tissues composed of cells at various differentiated states. Immunostaining - magenta: SOX2 (Neural stem cells / Neural progenitor cells); blue: GFAP (Neural stem cells / Radial glia), green: Acetylated tubulin (Differentiated neurons).
The Ability to Preserve Life
To understand how diapause preserves life, we characterize the interplay between diapause and aging at both physiological and molecular levels. We also work to elucidate the potential rejuvenation coupled with diapause.
Image: The African killifish lives an extremely short lifespan and ages from young (top fish) to old (bottom fish) in a few months. This fast aging process makes it possible to study and follow the whole aging process with a feasible timeline.
The African Killifish for Research and Education
To strengthen the African killifish as a research organism and an educational resource, we characterize its embryogenesis and aging process in detail. We innovate genetic and molecular tools. And we integrate these initiatives into educational training for undergraduate/graduate students and outreach.
Image: The African killifish evolves diapause, allowing the fish to live out of water for months to years to survive the annual drought, a remarkable showcase of selection and adaptation in evolution. Life finds a way.
You might be THE MISSING PIECE! We are always looking for creative & curious mind to complete our dream team.
We love people with different backgrounds working together to study dormant biology, an emerging field with many promising research directions remained unexplored.
We encourage people to develop projects based on their interests & strength, and eventually establish a unique research identity in the field.
We welcome people at various career stages, including undergraduate & graduate students, as well as professionals.